Electronic Hardware Startup Tips: From Idea to Manufacturing

Altium Designer
|  Created: April 12, 2018  |  Updated: January 1, 2021

Gear, wrench, and up-arrow for industrial growth

While we are in what some call the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it comes as no surprise that the technology available is encouraging more and more people to try their hand at creating. The adaptability for technology to be used by anyone from consumers with little more than an idea, to people who have dedicated their entire lives to researching and learning about this technology leaves the industrial doors wide-open for any-and-all comers in the market.

With a napkin sketch and a roadmap, anybody could come up with a reasonable plan of action for the startup. But as accessible as the market seems, the entrance should not be taken lightly, as it is an extremely competitive environment. The chances of your startup’s survival may deter many, however, with enough willpower to push through success may be in your future.

Aside from the market conditions, what should your process from idea to manufacturing look like in its simplest form? How does one go about taking a napkin sketch into a prototype? Here are some tips we’ve assembled that you may choose to follow along your way.

The Electronic Napkin Sketch

The old adage of how thousand-mile-journeys begin with a single step is absolutely true here, but what should the step look like? Does the type of shoe matter? And what should be on your napkin sketch?

If you have electrical engineering experience you may seek to sketch out a full schematic. But those without electrical engineering experience will simply need a list of functions of said device. What will the device do? What will it look like? What are the spatial limitations? What inputs and outputs will exist and where?

Product design can take longer than anticipated, but trying to answer as many questions as you can about your idea will only encourage its movement towards manufacturing. And just for a general electronic or hardware startup tip, always write down your ideas. You won’t want to pitch your idea three different ways to three people. These are just a handful of questions you should begin to ask yourself. Where do you go after this? Let’s look to get this into a prototype.

Getting Your Product to Manufacturing: Engineering

You’ll eventually need to seek engineering counsel (if it isn’t yourself) that will allow for the interpretation and realization of your napkin sketch and/or and routing definition. There are a plethora of design engineers always looking to bring ideas to life from napkin sketch to schematic.

This schematic will continue to guide the outline both physically and systematically. If you have any special requirements, part placement becomes a crucial activity to properly fit into an enclosure. Once a list and schematics are more or less defined, you’ll arrive in the PCB design stage where the paper is introduced to reality.

Schematic napkin sketch
Engineering teams quickly turn napkin schematics into fully defined PCB’s.

This stage is mandatory in order to create the required files that are requested by any manufacturer prior to prototype/production status. The design engineers that create the initial schematics should have the proper software and knowledge to complete the task, but if not there are plenty of people out there who you can consult and request the expertise of.

This, of course, is not touching on the mechanical aspect as much, but understanding how your electronic system will play with the mechanical product will be of huge help along the way.


Now that each napkin sketch has a PCB file ready, it’s time to fire them off to some manufacturers. Regardless of if you’re prototyping or looking for a full-blown production run, there are a few manufacturing items that will need definition.

Before any contracts are signed be sure you know how to spot a reputable manufacturer. A manufacturer that you’ll want to work with will obviously possess a good track record, but even more, they should be transparent about their business, provide great communication, and sometimes even offer technical support when required. After you’ve made your choice on manufacturers, they should have the capabilities to get you what your design requires.

With the advancement in IoT devices, high density interconnect (HDI) boards, rigid-flex materials, and alternative chip packaging, the environment is both ever-evolving and ever-improving. You might not even come close to venturing into those realms, but another electronic hardware startup tip will be to never ignore new tech that could spruce up your design and manufacturing processes as well as your end product.

PCB manufacturing
The right manufacturer will have more than just a good track record.

Once manufacturing techniques and schemes are defined, you’ll obviously need to assess the prototype in-person to make as many iterations as it takes in getting the correct design out into the world. This is where your project management skill will come in handy as you may need to coordinate changes in design, engineering, and manufacturing teams. And when the prototypes are looking good, the world is your market. Let the sales stream in.

It doesn’t take much more than a napkin sketch to begin to assemble your roadmap to success and can be accomplished with a bit of grit and a helping hand. The tools which can help you along the way, like equipping yourself (or your designers or engineers) with design software that can easily produce manufacturing output files.

The industry is ready for winners to redefine and enable the world. Utilizing software, such as Altium Designer®, will allow you to create and maintain drawings, PCBs, manufacturing files with ease. But the best part of this great software is the pricing package designed for startups, allowing you to grow with your success. If you want to know more about how Altium can assist throughout your processes, talk to an Altium expert today.

About Author

About Author

PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

Recent Articles

Back to Home